The Graduate Studies Office and the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentoring Program held a workshop on November 6 at which students learned how to become better mentors. Graduate Studies Dean Jon Kull and Assistant Dean of Graduate Student Affairs Kerry Landers shared their insights into how they interact with students as both research mentors and academic advisors. Students from several different graduate programs, including psychological and brain sciences and physics and astronomy, attended the event.
The word of the day at the workshop was “trust.” Dean Kull believes that this is the most important quality in a mentor-mentee relationship, as in any healthy relationship. Mutual trust shows that you value the relationship and allows there to be open communication between both parties. No one person can follow in the exact same path as another, circumstances are always changing, and, as a mentor, one must understand that a mentee may have different ideas about their future. Open communication makes this easier to navigate and is essential in helping them discover their own path.
Building this kind of trust takes time and practice. Max Mehlman, a PhD student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) and a co-founder of the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentoring Program, found that this process is made easier when you show your mentee that you are “interested and invested” in the relationship and that you care about helping him or her excel. One way to do this is to document the interactions you have with your mentee so that you can remember these discussions later on. Simply remembering a small detail from a previous conversation can go a long way to building trust in your mentor-mentee relationship.
However, mentoring is not a one-way street, it needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship. Landers shared her perspective on this, saying that it is important as a mentor to know what the mentee’s expectations are and to lay these out from the beginning, before any miscommunication might occur. It is important to be personal and approachable so that your mentee will feel comfortable talking to you, but you also need to remain professional and know your limits regarding what topics you can advise on. Of course, it is sometimes useful to find a mentor of your own that you can go to with questions.
If you are interested in learning more about mentoring and the skills it takes to be a good mentor, be on the lookout for a four-part mentoring program, presented by Dean Kull and biology Professor Roger Sloboda, which will be held during the winter term on January 10, 17, 24, and 31.
by Erin O’Malley
photo by Eli Burakian ’00